Category: writing (page 2 of 11)

Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.

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But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

Partying Under Pressure

I’m somewhat paralyzed by the task of writing anything these days. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of saying nothing. I’m afraid of saying too much. I’m afraid what I write will not do justice to what is happening in my mind and my heart.
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But then again, I have so much to say that I might as well just spill.

So, here it goes: I’ve been really stressed about all the interest and attention I’ve gotten because of my essay about Manchild. Obviously. Nobody expects that kind of reaction. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been caught deer-in-the-headlights when something like this comes barreling out of nowhere.
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I’ve cried about it, I’ve joked about it, and Micah and I have talked a lot about it. Our conclusion is that we should have fun with it. Have fun with the TV interviews, anyway. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do for my career. Just go and say what I need to say, enjoy the experience, remember it for the family history. But then really go for it with the writing.
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The first part has been pretty easy. I’ve done two more interviews, a live one at 3am last Wednesday morning for The Lorraine Show in the UK. Micah and I went up to the studio while my sister slept on our couch in case the kids woke up. I sat in a tiny room, looked into the camera with a microphone clipped to my dress and a speaker in my ear, and talked about how I felt that I was empowering, not endangering, my child. (Here’s a link to the clip. I haven’t gotten the video to play, but let me know if you do!)

The second was for the CBS show The Doctors. Manchild and I flew out to LA for the taping. He wound up sitting in the dressing room at Paramount while I went through wardrobe, hair and make-up, and a couple of pep talks to hold my own and feel free to jump in and speak my piece. Which I did and it felt good. Maybe that’s what a pair of borrowed shiny black heels will do for you. (Ha!) The show won’t air until later in September, so watch this space for details.
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So that’s it for the fun. I don’t have any more interviews lined up. However, we are staying with my sister for the weekend, so maybe there is still fun to be had until Monday.

After that, no pressure, but I really want to write something good.

“Chores” Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

I’ve been accused of not letting people help me out enough. And I’ll own up to it. Sometimes it seems like it’s just easier to go ahead and do whatever needs to be done rather than ask/teach someone else to do it. But even I could see that things couldn’t go on forever like that — especially since I have a growing labor force in my very own apartment. It makes no sense for me to feel overwhelmed by needing to pick up clothes, do the dishes, and sweep the floor when I could simply do one of them and give someone else a chance to feel useful and capable and like a contributing member of the family.

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Of course, I may never have taken the time to teach it if I weren’t also writing about it. And in the process of teaching it, I realized a lot of things: foremost among them is that it only takes a few minutes to save myself a lot of frantic pin-balling around the apartment as I bump from one task to another hoping that I hit everything before I collapse.

Here are the other things I learned as I passed off some of my homemaking/housecleaning expertise to the Manchild:

It’s Time For My 7-year-old To Make His Own Lunch

I’ve been really happy that, so far, there hasn’t been much whining and griping. At least no more than our usual Saturday chores elicits. In fact, the boy seems happy to help and pleased that he is being given more responsibility — for the moment, anyway. And while I do sometimes feel a little bad that he is often asked so often to help when his siblings are running wild, I’m coming to terms with the fact that people actually do want to help. Even if they are my own kids, and even if it is “chores.”

Safety, Trust part 3

Earlier this summer Manchild brought his Calvin and Hobbes book to me, as he often does, so I could explain to him why exactly he’s laughing till his sides hurt. This particular strip had Calvin shoveling snow, contemplating life, and complaining of the unfairness that someone as intelligent as he is was reduced to performing manual labor. It seemed the Manchild kinda got it, but was fairly distracted by the idea that a 6-year-old was allowed outside by himself.

So I gave the spiel about how Calvin lives in a different place and time than we live, and how Brooklyn isn’t the place for even 7-year-olds to be out and about alone. But all Manchild could do was give me a look and say, “You know what I’m thinking, right?”

“That we should move some place where you can go outside by yourself?”

“Yep.”

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We’re not going to move. Not yet. But I can sympathize with the boy’s predicament. I’d actually been thinking about it quite a lot before Calvin shone a light on the issue. I mean, do I really need to take Manchild with me every time I go to the laundry, which is just around the block? Or the grocery store, which is right next to the laundry? And if I don’t need to drag him away from his books, how can I feel good about leaving him alone?

And that is how this summer became the “Summer of Safety” in which I let Manchild spread his wings just a little bit. Longtime readers know that this is something I’ve thought about a lot (see part 1 and part 2), and this time I got to put my thoughts into action.

I wrote about our endeavor for Babble, and you can read the first 2 (of 3) installments here:

Bye Bye Helicopter Mom

Yes, My 7-year-old Is Old Enough to Stay Home Alone

Up until this summer, I thought I had been giving the boy age-appropriate freedoms and responsibilities, but I was wrong. I’m way behind on a lot of things (though part of that is because of well, Brooklyn) but I am much more conscientious now of the need — for both me and him — to be aware of things he can do himself, and to give him the opportunity to try.

Where are you and your kids with the balance of freedoms/responsibilities? And how do people view that kind of thing where you are from? (In Brooklyn, people seem appalled if you don’t have your kids within arms reach at all times. Today some ladies were shocked when I left Little Miss sitting in the stroller outside our building while I ran 20 feet down the sidewalk to help Squish get up after he crashed his bike again.)

Oh, I’ll let you know when the last post goes live.

Beauty and Brains

“You may say most positively that ‘Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,’ but all Susan will remember is that she isn’t bright and Sandra that she isn’t pretty.” — Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

We talk so much about teaching girls to be themselves, to nurture their talents, to not be afraid to do or be anything. But then we also praise them so much for being “pretty” or “cute” that it would be easy for them to get the idea that being pretty is the only thing to be. I am for sure guilty of this. My daughter is only 2 and it’s already a habit for me to praise her beauty every chance I get. It’s kind of a problem because she may get the sense that no matter what I say, her true value lies in being pretty.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

I have definitely felt that way. Growing up, I was the Sandra to my sister’s Susan. Everyone told me I was smart. It seemed like they were complimenting me. It seemed like they were trying to tell me that this was a good thing. And yet it felt a lot more like a curse. I was told that is was probably the reason I didn’t have a lot of friends and the reason boys didn’t ask me to dance (apparently, my big brain was super intimidating?). Even my youth leaders seemed perplexed by what to say to a girl whose “intelligence” outshone her looks. It wasn’t until I was receiving scholarships my senior year of high school that I started to feel a small amount of validation that being smart was actually something to be admired and celebrated.

I know that there could have been other things going on. I am a reserved person. My face is hard to read and that makes me seem unapproachable. But during those extremely formative years of my life, all I could see was that the “pretty” girls (including my sister) were getting a lot of attention, and I was . . . not. I felt like this trait that I had, these “brains,” was talked about it like it was worth something but it wasn’t really valued at all. It was worthless and so was I.

It has only been recently that I’ve started to unravel the truth that the value that I have as a person is something separate from whether I am pretty or smart or approachable. At that time, I had been working really hard to earn the love and attention of others. I wanted to prove that I was worthy. It was crushing when I felt like my efforts were ignored or unappreciated. But about a year ago something turned in my head — and my heart — and I could kinda sorta see that there were at least a few people who liked me because I am me, and not because I can bake pie or run fast or because I’m somebody’s sister or friend or because I am or am not “beautiful.”

Then last spring this idea came into focus a little bit more when I went to the Women in the World Summit and heard Ken Burns say, “Eleanor Roosevelt would not have become who she was if she had been made to feel like she was pretty.” So much of the work that she did — helping the downtrodden, fighting injustices, bringing attention to the overlooked — she didbecause she felt that she couldn’t get by on her looks alone, that she wasn’t worth anything if she didn’t do it. 

Later that same day I listened to a panel of women talk about how girls pin so much of their self-worth on whether or not the selfies they post online get a lot of “likes” or comments. It hit close to home for me. I admit it. I don’t post pictures of myself very often because I don’t feel like I get “good feedback” (or any feedback). And I let it tell me that I’m not beautiful, not worth praising, not worth anything — that people don’t like me. When Rashida Jones, one of the panelists, suggested that girls and women be encouraged to invest more in their “appreciating assets” — their heads and their hearts, rather in the “depreciating asset” of physical beauty, another small wheel turned in my head and this idea became a tiny bit clearer.

I’ve been thinking a lot since then about what it means to be “beautiful” or to be a “beautiful person”and last week I had the chance to sit down with a dozen other women to talk about it. There were so many insightful, thoughtful, and helpful comments. Some of the best:

“Every day I look in the mirror and I tell myself I’m beautiful. In fact, I’ve only seen myself ugly once. That was when I was angry. I told God, ‘Thanks for letting me see me ugly,’ and now I am never angry.”

“I want to tell people that I love them, but what I hear myself saying instead is, ‘You look beautiful today. I really like that dress.'”

“When I think of all you ladies, I don’t see what you look like as much as I see the things that you are doing, how you are helping others, that special moment I got to see between you and your child, your talents and what you are contributing to the world.”

“People don’t think about you as much as you think they do.” (Which is possibly the most freeing realization I have ever had in my life.)

“I have a friend whose default position is, ‘They like me.’ She just tells herself that everyone likes her, and then they do, because she’s not afraid of them.”

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With all this coming into focus in my mind, I was bold enough to post a photo of myself (not exactly a “selfie” since Little Miss was actually the photographer) to Instagram. It’s not a glamour shot by any means, but it is me — my face, my story. When I first posted it, I held my breath a bit and waited to see if anybody would “like” it — or me. But then I talked myself down and remembered: people aren’t voting on how pretty I am or how much they think I am worth. I posted the photo to tell my own story, and whether or not they like it is irrelevant. It’s fun, but it doesn’t change the fact that no matter what people think of my looks or my brains, I can still be a beautiful person — someone who is kind, generous, thoughtful, patient, selfless, sensitive, honest, cheerful.

Please Don’t Make Me Juggle

We talk a lot about failing and succeeding, about balancing and juggling, balls dropped or kept aloft. I just wish there was another way. Can’t we just meet each challenge as it comes? Decide what is the most important thing to do right now and do it? Hold on to what we have and move forward?

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I don’t want to feel as if I’m falling, like I’m going to hit the ground. I don’t want to fear that hurt, that abruptness of finding that I’m not able to stand on my own two feet. I don’t want to have to worry that I’m going to drop something and that everything else will fall in the scramble to prevent chaos — only to find that the chaos is inevitable.

But I don’t often get to choose. It’s not my life I’m carrying. I never know what things should be left, and what I should scramble to hold onto. Sometimes the things I think can be left behind or wait until I get back to them turn out to be someone’s most urgent priority, their most beloved possession.

So that is where I get tripped up: what is worth risking the twisted ankle and bruised shoulder for — because everything matters to someone. I may think it would be crushing if I didn’t go to the musical performance, write the napkin joke, sing the bedtime song. But, really, it would only be crushing to me. Someone else could live without it, might not even notice it’s absence.

But then, when I absent-mindedly push the precious, coveted elevator button, or add the last cup of oats to the granola mix, I sometimes tip the scales and set off a reaction that cannot be contained. The tears, the sadness, the anger spill out with unexpected power. They flow through the apartment, the day, and my own spirit. I try to keep a level head, maintain perspective, be understanding, and clean things up, make them better. But still. They seep and leech and before I know it I am covered inside and out with guilt, disappointment, confusion.

How did this happen? How did I get so off balance that I could cause such a devastating blow? How did everything change moods and directions so suddenly? Will I ever be able to wash out the stain from this particular spill entirely? Will I carry it with me, a sad reminder of my inability to be aware of everyone else’s feelings and prioritize them appropriately? Will I be able to purge it and start over again, clean, happy, pure . . . naieve?

Or am I destined to be sadder but wiser again and again and again, until I am burdened — and balanced — with that sadness and wisdom.

I guess that’s why we talk of juggling, of balancing. We worry about falling, and dropping things because we carry everyone’s feelings in our hands, and everyone wants to be on top sometimes. And the risk we take for trying to make that happen is that sometimes, they all fall down. Even our feelings. Especially our feelings.

Notes From Women in the World, Part 2

I did it. I found my notebook from Women in the World. And as I’ve been flipping through the pages again, reading the things I wrote, remembering the thoughts and ideas and feelings that were so powerful when I first heard them (more than 2 months ago . . . ), I can see why it has been so important to me to share them.

From the pages and pages I scrawled about make-up and body image and selfies to the stories of honor killings that have been echoed in the news recently, I just can’t help but think that this is all so relevant and important for us all to know about and to think about so that we can talk and reach out and help each other — whether it be our best friend next door or our neighbor in India.

So here we go. Part 2. Please remember that these are my notes, so forgive me if they are a bit choppy! And again, if there is anything that sounds interesting to you and you want to discuss further, let me know.

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“You have to be willing to lay down your life for your cause,” says Sally, who started the Crushers (boxing) Club in (I believe) Chicago to replicate the things kids look for in gangs — like love and belonging — in a safe environment where she can also teach more basic skills like being on time and dependable, working together, resolving conflict, and dressing and speaking well so the kids are more employable. In the beginning she said, “Lord I will give you my life if you will let me save all the children.”

*****

In Pakistan women are trying to stand up to injustices in their communities and change men’s minds to turn them into allies. Many of them have never considered that girls should go to school. That’s a big idea for them. There was a lot of talk about honor killings (including a video in which a man said, with a smile on his face, “The solution to all the problems is a bullet.” He was responding to a question about whether he would let his wife or daughter go to the market — which, apparently, is a threat to his honor). But “our communities belong to us and we need to take ownership of them and to teach our children to take ownership as well.” (This hit me hard as someone who still feels like an outsider in my neighborhood and often looks past things as “not my problem.”)

When we are called upon to act, will we do what we are called upon to do? Will we recognize the call when it comes?

*****

Samantha Power is a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist turned ambassador (and mom of 2 young kids). She said, “Don’t make the choice to either send in the marines or do nothing.” There are options in between the two extremes. As a writer she could write and hope that it would impact and influence someone to do something, but now she has the responsibility and the power to actually to do something.

*****

In India the term “untouchable” is a pejorative — it means you are spiritually defiling to someone else. Women of that caste use the term “dalit” which means they are broken, but they are fighting back to reclaim their own lives. “Until everyone is free of this system, no one is free. We must all be free together.”

*****

#girlsarewatching. This was so eye-opening/scary for me: seeing popular music videos of the hottest female singers/musicians juxtaposed with home videos of 3-4 year-old girls imitating the singers’ (highly sexual) dance moves. *shudder* Clearly we need to be careful about what we let our daughters see, but it goes much deeper than that. There is more to these performers than sex, but we don’t get to see that.

There is also the issue of healthy sexuality vs. sexualization (separating the person from their sexuality and commodifying those parts). Girls are being pulled in different directions: they are told they need to score well on the SAT and get a good GPA, but then it is the sexiness that gets attention.

Education and media literacy are so important. Ask what is appealing about this? Why is this important? Think about the outcomes: girls self-sexualize and objectify and then have more problems with school, physical activities, and making poor choices.

And the boys need to be taught as well. They need to know what is right and what is wrong with the way women are portrayed in the media. They are also victimized because they don’t have realistic expectations of women and sex either. And all people (girls, boys, kids) need to feel that they can ask questions and get real answers.

The culture is selling you a bill of goods when they tell you that sticking your tongue out and twerking is powerful. It is the opposite. It is giving up your power and the consequences are real. Even if they (girls and boys) are “just playing,” it does become who you are.

If you invest solely in your looks, you are investing in a depreciating asset. You need to invest in things that appreciate: your heart and your head because in them is the beauty that lasts. The media continually changes the standard and they saturate the culture so that we are always comparing our flawed selves to the photoshopped images. Make-up should be fun, but it should not own you, it should not be debilitating if you don’t wear it.

THINGS TO REMEMBER/ACT ON:

It’s not about what men think. We are in a competition with ourselves over perceived male attention.

We cannot depend on “likes” on selfies to determine our worth.

We should be able to find beauty apart from our looks in what we do.

Look in the mirror and tell yourself what you like about yourself.

Posture and attitude and confidence have as much to do with beauty as anything else.

Do we embody our beauty? Because beauty is a whole body thing.

Do not denigrate your appearance in front of your daughter: you are insulting the resemblance your kids have to you.

The sisterhood is important: tell each other that we think each other is beautiful.

*****

How Hip is Your Hijab? “Forgot to be oppressed; too busy being awesome.”

*****

Final thoughts:

Don’t be indifferent, be inspired and great. Look around for those little things that get you to act. Pay attention to little coincidences: they could be your call to action.

Own your story. Share it, speak it.

Become shameless.

Work for the world you want.

Run for office or support other women who are running.

A group of people standing together cannot be defeated.

Why not us? Flood politics with a tsunami of women.

We cannot be free if there is injustice anywhere.

We are not the flowers, we are the flames of resistance.

Notes From Women in the World, Part 1

Oh man. Where do I even start? Women in the World. It’s a summit that I attended a few weeks ago and it was . . . awesome. I could not tear myself away. Speaker after speaker stood up and shared messages that made me think and feel and consider and reconsider the roles women have, what they are capable of, how they present themselves, what they can do, and how they are using their power and influence throughout the world.

I’ve been overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to share everything with all of you, which is why it is only now, nearly 4 weeks later, that I’m sitting down determined to say something. And hopefully over the next several weeks and months I’ll be able to share in more detail some of my thoughts from the pages and pages of notes I scribbled down in the darkened auditorium at Lincoln Center.
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Here is a start, snippets and fragments from those pages of notes, sprinkled with some brief thoughts of my own.

“A revolution is not just a rifle. It is also a helping hand, a song, a prayer.” — Rania Kasar, founder of Syrian Women’s Revolution Committee. Obviously she was talking about the situation in Syria, but this idea has come up a couple of times in my life since then: the bold thing to do is to be compassionate, to turn the other cheek, to reach out instead of turning away.

So many people spoke of “making a difference,” but can we be more specific? Can we talk about how we are helping those in need, or of what need we are trying to fill?

Some thoughts from Hillary Clinton and Christine Legarde:
-Equality between the sexes means stability and security throughout the world.
-Take criticism seriously, but not personally.
-Hillary observed that women are often hesitant to take on new roles or to step into bigger ones. She made it sound like that was keeping women from achieving, but I wondered if that is an unrecognized strength women have — it’s not necessarily self-doubt, but might be a means of building relationships and developing a team.
-Don’t cry, strategize.

From a panel on Women and the Arab Spring:
-“To cook the food well, you need a fire up and down,” — up is the state, down is the people, the food is a stable society.
-When women speak up, they are subject to personal attacks. The solution is education so that they can change the dialogue.
-Jon Stewart (who moderated this discussion) observed that we are very impatient for change in the Middle East, but already change is progressing at an unheard of rate. The US claimed equality, but took 100 years to free the slaves.

In Rwanda, women are having to re-integrate the society to include both the perpetrators and the victims of genocide. In addition to learning how to forgive, they are working toward reconciliation and re-educating the perpetrators — even taking them into their homes and treating them as their sons in some cases. Revenge is not an option.

“Empowering women liberates humanity.”

A woman from Britain shared the story of how her son became an extremist and was arrested and is imprisoned on terrorism charges. (He was considering suicide-bombing a mall, but was arrested beforehand.) She said that he genuinely felt a lot of pain for the Palestinian people, but he didn’t have the tools or understanding to address his grievances in a constructive way. How much pain and destruction could be prevented if we were able to teach people to deal with their pain constructively?

Ken Burns on Eleanor Roosevelt: She would not have become who she was if she had been made to feel like she was pretty. Her drive to help people was borne of her experience as a child in which her mom was very vocal about her disappointment with Eleanor’s looks, but loved it when Eleanor brushed her hair. Eleanor felt that if she could be of use to someone else, she could be loveable. I have so much to say about this topic — beauty and feeling loveable — that I will undoubtedly be writing more on it later.

Maternal mortality throughout the world: in poor countries, the problem is getting women to medical care. Sometimes they have been on the road for days, trying to get to a hospital, and by the time they get there, it’s too late. But in the US, the problem is that women are arriving to pregnancy sicker. They have chronic conditions, are obese, etc. And the pregnancy needs to be co-ordinated with efforts to get the mother healthy. The focus right now is on outcomes for the baby, when there needs to be more concern for the mother’s overall health as well.

“Run towards fear.” Fear is what happens to people before they get into action. Once they are acting, the fear disappears.

Okay, that’s all for now . . . I’ve still got plenty more to share, hopefully in the next couple of days. Let me know if there is anything that piques your interest and we can start a discussion!

Anxiously Engaged

We’ve been looking for a new apartment for about 6 months now. We are being “gently nudged” out of our current place and are hoping to find something a little closer to the park, a little closer to our friends, with a little more space (and with not too big a price tag).

I know we’ll find something. I know we will. I am sure there is something out there that we will be happy with. But, we’re six months in and I can’t help but be a bit anxious about it.

We’ve had people tell us their (large) apartment was too small for the size of our family. We’ve had one slip through our fingers based on some miscommunications and bad timing. We thought we found a great one — and then they renovated the kitchen and replaced the full-size fridge and stove with mini ones. Not so good for a family.

So it’s not really surprising that I’ve developed some anxiety around the situation. And, in fact, I wonder if being anxious may not just be part of the process as we move forward with the faith that eventually we’ll find what we’re looking for. There is a scripture in my faith that says that we should be “anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of [our] own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

Anxious in this case means dedicated and diligent, of course, but I wonder if those feelings of anxiety and uncertainty are just as necessary as dedication and diligence in helping us get to where we need to go. Wrestling with the doubts, the questions, the failures and the deadends — rather than simply giving into them — show that we care about the outcome, that we are seeking to do what is right and best for ourselves and our families, that we want to learn to trust our free will to bring us to not just any place, but to the right place.

To bring us home.

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I wish that I could confidently and carelessly say, “Well find the right place,” and go about my business without worry or stress. But it doesn’t work that way. At least not for me. The anxiety is what keeps me “anxiously engaged” and diligently seeking . . . on Craigslist, PadMapper, Street Easy, and wherever else apartments are found.

And that’s fine. I’m willing to suffer through these months of low-level stress and (mostly) minor disappointment if it gets me a little closer to where I want to be.

p.s. Boston is next Monday! I’m running it! I’m anxious about that too! And I’ll post later this week with my bib number and final thoughts for those who are interested in following me from Hopkinton to Copley Square.

Boys Can Be Pretty, Too

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“What about these ones?” Manchild held up a box of running shoes. They were bright blue with hot pink accents. There may have been hearts on them. Clearly a pair of shoes made for a girl. Except, he didn’t know that and I didn’t have the heart to tell him. Or maybe I didn’t have the guts? Maybe I just didn’t know how.

After all, a color is just a color, right? He already has hot pink swimming trunks. He uses a pink plate or bowl and cup at nearly every meal. He likes pink. And that’s fine. Pink is just a color. I try to be neutral about such things, but I was grateful to have a reason to say no: “Those are cool. But they’re running shoes and you already have a pair of those. We’re looking for warm shoes for winter.”

He put them back on the shelf and we found a pair of brown boots with red laces instead.

That was back in November and I still think about it frequently. Not the event itself, but the question and answer that it brings to mind:

Why can’t you have the shoes with the pink hearts?

Because you’re a boy.

Boys can’t wear pink because it’s girly. Boys don’t play princesses. Boys don’t cry.

This seems unfair and hypocritical to me. Especially now that I have a girl. A girl who can do anything. Wear pink or blue. Be a doctor or a nurse. Play ball or be a ballerina.

Is it just me or does it feel like boys’ worlds get smaller as girls’ get bigger? How can I explain that to my boys? My boys who have no problem prancing around in princess dresses at their friend’s house? Who would rather be “bunnies” for Halloween than muscled superheroes? Who name their cars and airplanes things like Lilly, Amy, and Ella? How can I break it to them that, you know, they might get beat up, made fun of, teased to tears if they wear shoes with hot pink hearts of them?

I’ve been trying to figure it out for months. Do I tell them what could happen? Do I just draw a line at “cultural norms” and simply say, “Boys on this side, girls on that?” Do I let them feel it out for themselves?

And then, a week or so ago, this happened: Manchild was home sick from school. In an attempt to do something “fun” with our day, I pulled a bottle of nail polish from the bathroom cabinet. Within 5 minutes, both Little Miss and Squish had magenta toenails, and Squish was on his way to see if Manchild was interested as well.

I knew, of course, that he would be. And I knew that this was going to be a “teaching moment,” though I didn’t know who or what was going to be taught. Or how. But when Manchild walked in looking for the nail polish party, I opened my mouth, “Now, I don’t have any problem painting your toenails, but before I do, I want you to know that some people think that it is girly to have your nails painted, and if one of those people saw your nails when you are at swimming lessons, they might make fun of you or say mean things. So now I need to know: if someone said something to you about your toenails, what would you say to them?”

He hardly needed to think at all: “Well, I don’t want that to happen.”

End of discussion.

And beginning of an awakening. For me and my boys. And it kind of stinks. The world is closing in on us — on them, mostly. No pink nails. No shoes with hearts. Pretty soon there will be no more princess dress-ups, no hot pink swim shorts. Part of me wishes I’d just painted his nails, gotten the shoes, let him live it up while he can — until he comes home in tears wondering why I didn’t tell him, warn him, protect him from what he didn’t know.

I shudder at the thought.

And then I hope that as they “grow out” of their child-like and innocent games and interests and loves and into more traditionally “boyish” pursuits, they don’t also grow out of their sensitivity and sweetness — that being cut off from “cute” and “pink” and “pretty” doesn’t leave an angry scar.

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